Improving your life: an idea so trivial it's ingenious
With Swiss Medendi, two doctors dream of revolutionising the world's treatment protocols: and of earning the title of "Switzerland's most innovative start-up".
LUGANO - Even a good story begins with pain: and an entrepreneurial initiative that feeds on the pain of others, but this time with the intention of alleviating it. Making it more human, tolerable, sensible; less unfair than it was fifteen years ago and in the days that followed.
It was 2001 when Emilia Carla Pace was diagnosed with a breast tumour. A doctor specialising in anatomy and pathology and director of the VisDocta research laboratory on the shores of Lake Garda, in the municipality of Tignale, which has been studying human biology since 1997, she now dreams of revolutionising oncology, together with her husband and colleague Shahar Tsabari. Thanks to a device developed by their start-up Swiss Medendi, based in Lugano since December 2012: already patented in 67 countries around the world, selected for the finals of the Swiss Startup Summit on 22 September in Fribourg and about to be distributed to hospitals, already by the end of 2016 with the first specimens.
Because to heal is to hurt yourself - A very simple idea, according to the inventors themselves; the reasons from which it developed are less obvious or well-known. Because only those who undergo chemotherapy, and perhaps not even he or she properly, become truly aware of how the drugs injected to fight cancer cause irreversible effects on the body. "The vessels that come into contact with the drugs become damaged, necrotic, occluded,' explains Tsabari, 51, originally from Israel but who came to Italy 30 years ago. Burning, sore limbs and sclerosis are only the first and least of the ills. "This is chemical phlebitis. About 250 drugs are responsible for it in medicine; 32% of them are used in oncology.
Either the vein or your life - After weighing up the effects and benefits, it's better to sacrifice a vein than a life; but not when there is a way out, not even a very complicated one, which is also much more advantageous from an economic point of view. "First of all, we're talking about disposable catheters: they stay in the body just long enough to be applied and reduce the risk of complications. We have simply modified the drip chambers of the infusion sets so that the vessels are not saturated".
And yet it's so easy... - Translated into less sophisticated terms, a tiny amount of blood comes into contact with the catheter, forming a kind of barrier to drugs and their side effects. "The first patent was filed in 2010 and was immediately recognised for its innovative scope. In Ticino we then developed the device, which should be ready by the end of the year. The first partner will be the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, with whom we have been collaborating for three years, but we would like to make it available to other hospitals as soon as possible".
Costs cut by 77% - The possibility of using it for home treatment, which is more common in the US, or in private clinics, is not excluded: costs could be cut by up to 77% compared to traditional methods. Between the purchase of the catheter, insertion, radiological checks and removal, "today the cost ranges from 2000 to 4000 francs. Excluding maintenance. If you also take into account the scheduled visits and check-ups, the costs, and therefore the savings, increase".
"Help us: and vote for us". - However, this is not the primary objective of Shahar and Carla's research: it is just an incentive to spread a method of treatment that can change people's quality of life. This is one of the reasons why their study started with breast cancer: "Because it is often diagnosed when women are only 20 or 25 years old and their vessels are already damaged. In order to prevent this, Swiss Medendi is now looking for industrial partners to set up production in Switzerland, and for the consent of the people, who until 8 July will be able to vote on the project (swissstartupsummit.com) and the start-up that aspires to become, in black and white, "the most innovative in Switzerland".